Quote of the Week: Friends don’t silence or oppress you…

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At the start of Black History Month, it feels only right that I quote from one of the great wise women who walks this earth, writes so eloquently and speaks such wisdom.

I walked through the door after being at the dentist the other day and my Mum saw me and was like “What’s wrong? Was it really bad? Did it hurt?” it wasn’t my mouth that was hurting. I was saddened by things popping up on my phone. A man, a prominent voice in the Scottish evangelical church landscape who believes that women are not of equal value to men. The sadness that I’ve watched two incredible young people go through teenagehood, become passionate for Jesus and be brainwashed by such teaching and become more excluding rather than welcoming. More superior rather than supportive. And another young adult who has been brainwashed by evangelical Christians who believe that Trump is some kind of messenger from God and that by locking our doors to people in need (despite the bible teaching us that we should do the complete opposite) it’s about loving our family, rather than fear and hate of strangers.

I made a decision last week to stop attending church because I realised that church seemed to demand my silence. It seemed to be denying my friends. After my friends (and my Mum I’ve since found out) were appalled at the way three other friends – all male, all “Christian” – spoke down to me about a subject they knew little about and I knew much about, and how they talked about some controversial issues with very strong and hateful language, I realised that I had not been affected by their speech. Why? Because I had become so accustomed to it during the years that I ran a pregnancy crisis centre. Over the last couple of years I have felt lost because I have not understood how this life of mine could be part of some plan God has for me (people in church often talk about ‘the plans God has for us’, usually taking a bible verse from the book of Jeremiah out of context in the process). The last two years have taken me out of a bubble and into the world, opening my eyes and heart to so many different people. These friends have not held me silent, and they’ve not denied my right to grow. They’ve been patient with my ignorance, they’ve helped me learn so much more about experiences I’ve never personally gone through. However, for many of them, when they’ve walked into a church community – they have been silenced and denied. Because of this, they believe God hates them.

I love community. I really miss being part of a community that studies the teaching, prays together, lives collectively, welcomes in strangers, learns to get along despite many differences. Knowing that inclusive church does exist,  I hope that some day soon I’ll find one in my city.

Being single in the church…

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I’m still getting used to not working on Sundays and realising that church services are something I really have to push myself to go to. Although this has been the case for pretty much 90% of the time I’ve lived in Edinburgh I’m still not used to the loneliness of going to and from church. I think because when I first started going in Aberdeen I hated missing church, it was a community affair and Sunday was my favourite day of the week because of it.

I’ve had a few chats that have got me thinking about religious practice lately. Chat number one was about the concern over prophetic words being spoken over children by people in positions of authority. My friend and I feel lucky that when we became Christians we were part of a church that taught us to weigh these kind of things up – never to just take someone’s “Word from God” as fact or definitely being from God. We were taught to discern and pray  and ask God about it. Sadly, this is often NOT the case, and as a result children are sometimes burdened by words spoken over them they believe must be true.

Chat number two was about singleness and relationships. I grow increasingly concerned about the culture in the church where kids (and adults!) are taught to ‘pray for THE ONE’ and marriage and children are things that must be on your life to-do list. I’ve watched a few friends now who have rushed into engagements and marriage – I believe driven by fear of being alone or feeling like a failure. I’m thankful that some of those friends had courage to realise that and break off engagements. Others have had to go through painful divorces. It has been awful to watch. The simple fact is church ministries tend to be designed around families that look like a husband, wife and kids. I will confess it’s an alien idea to me, as my family always included members that weren’t blood related. My family holidays were with my Mum and her three single friends or her best friend (another single parent) and son. My birthday parties tended to have those friends at them – sometimes helping my Mum make party bags and serve sandwiches, jelly and ice cream. Often as single people we listen to sermons that make constant references to parenting and marriage. We are led by married people. We are treated like children. Young people get sermons to pray for their future spouses and make wish lists to sleep with under their pillows. And I’m glad that it’s been several months since the last woman in church came up to me to say “Oh Laurie, I’m praying that you find a good husband one day, I really believe that he could be just around the corner“.

Truth is, I would love to marry and spend my life with a guy if we were compatible for such a thing. I consider myself lucky to have made some good friends in Aberdeen and in Edinburgh that have lived out healthy marriage to me. And taught me that if I did get married I don’t have to become a stay at home mum if I don’t want to. However, I also believe that being single gives so much opportunity to live life and serve God and others.

I never want to marry someone because I’ve settled for someone just because they seem interested in me and it seems like a better idea than living alone.

Which brings me to my point. Marital status shouldn’t ever mean being alone no matter what it is.

I’m lucky that I have two families in particular that I get to be a part of. We exchange gifts for Christmas and birthdays. I’ve made cupcakes for their parties and been on road trips with them. I’ve wiped poo off their kids’ bottoms and sponged puke out their hair. We’ve gone to music gigs, we’ve celebrated New Year, they’ve taken home bags of rubbish when our wheelie bin got too full after my birthday party, we’ve gone on holiday together, we’ve shared books, ideas and tried to put the world to rights. I’ve prayed with them, I’ve read their kids stories. And the nicest part is that they don’t make me feel like a leper or avoid certain conversations just because I’m not married or a parent. They’ve text me when they’re exhausted from their kid not going to sleep for months on end. I’ve text them when some random guy on a bus has asked me out on a date and I’m not sure how to respond to that.

But I hate how on a Sunday we seem to get segregated into families, married couples, students, 25+ singles, widows, high school students… it doesn’t feel like community to me. It feels isolating.

Sundays are the only time I wish I was married with kids.

The rest of the time? I’m content with the life I’ve been given, and happy to see where it ends up…married eventually or single forever. Because in my world, singleness doesn’t mean aloneness.

At least I hope not.

And I know I’m not the only person that feels this way in church.

How can we make church more of an inclusive community?

Quote of the week 6: Learning from those we disagree with

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I had a small rant on facebook last week. The previous weekend my twitter and facebook had filled with overjoyed atheists and angry Christians sharing a link to a video of Stephen Fry going off on one in response to a question about what he would do if he met God (or something like along those lines). I’m a fan of Stephen Fry’s work – particularly on his documentary series raising awareness about endangered species, LBGTQ related issues and bipolar disorder – so I do follow him on Twitter and watch interviews with him on talk shows, so I’ve heard him and seen him talk in this way before. At times he is respectful of a person’s right to believe differently from him and other times he’s come close to suggesting or insinuating that being a Christian should be outlawed. And I do take issue with that latter take on things. It’s this kind of fundamentalism that I find quite terrifying wherever it comes from. Because I find the idea of trying to enforce people to sign up to one particular worldview (or that we should outlaw and stigmatise one particular type of worldview) very disturbing. Because you can take one look at recent history to see what it can lead to.

Genocide. Holocaust. Murder. Hate crime. Stigma.

A lot of people thought my rant was directed at what Stephen Fry said, but it wasn’t. It was at the comments several of my atheist friends had made while sharing articles and memes that the video going viral had inspired as a result which seemed to all take the view that if you believed in God you were uneducated and idiotic. I did make the mistake of taking them personally. My thought process on the sight of them was: “well, if that’s what you think about Christians, that’s what you must think about me“. I’m sure that in reality they didn’t give it a second thought when they shared stuff or how it could come across. I know I’ve been plenty guilty of sharing opinions in a ten second ‘share’ on social media that could be misleading to my actual thought process.

But just as I was posting my ‘Quote of the Week’ on my facebook (which I do every Monday or as close to Monday as possible after the post goes live) this appeared on my feed after being shared and ‘liked’ by a friend. The comments underneath it were all talking about how stupid and incapable of thinking Christians are.

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It was as they say ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. Had it not been the timing of seeing that, I probably would have sighed and moved on. But I do love my quotes, they do keep me going. Some of the quotes on my wall are passages that talk about love, grace and faith. Heck I have a Zulu word that means hope and faith permanently tattooed on my foot! Is it wrong to be inspired by acts of love, grace or faith? I’d had enough, and having spent the better part of the last 19 months critically thinking (whether I want to or not…just about my whole Masters is about critical thinking and questioning everything we are taught!) and the fact that pretty much anyone who has studied the bible or discussed matters of faith with me can most likely tell you how much I rant about the need for choice, to understand that preachers are capable of talking crap as much as they are capable of speaking truth, challenge and encouragement. Or my frustration at times when I’ve watched Christians lap up the words of the most currently fashionable Christian preaching celebrity on the block without critical reflection on their teaching (and whether it matches up with their application). Actually being church with me is probably quite exhausting.

And so with anger and hurt I took to my iPad…

Apologies to those disappointed in the atheist republic community that my quote of the week choices so far this year have not included fluffy flowery words such as love, faith and grace. Blessed was included last week so hopefully that counts and gives you a little fuel to make me out to be a brainless idiot who doesn’t think for herself. You may think I’m weird for believing in a God who gave free will to choose what we say, do and believe in because of course it does mean we have the ability to both help as well as damage the world. Maybe I’m weird for being glad we are not all programmed to think and act the same way. I kinda like having friends who can both share and differ with me on their beliefs about all sorts of things in politics,artistic taste, lifestyle choices, family culture, laws and the existence of god(s) or lack thereof.

People on Facebook seem to love a good quote meme. And most of my friends who told me I should keep sharing my favourite quotes and reflections on them don’t believe in god so I’m guessing they don’t find my thoughts on life totally offensive? I’m hoping they would tell me of they did. So I’ll keep sharing my “fluffy” quotes each Monday.

I’m off to wash my hair.

I just want to thank two of my atheist friends who were the first to hit ‘like’ on that status, and another who asked me about the rant the next day – leading to a great discussion outside a lecture theatre about religion, atheism, history and the way the institutionalisation of education is affecting our abilities to critically reflect and consider beliefs that we don’t hold ourselves. I really appreciated that and encouraged me that even if we don’t believe the same things about the existence of anything spiritual, we do believe in freedom of speech, freedom of religion (for want of a better term) and mutual respect. Because I do love having discussions about the deeper issues of life…values, culture, morals, ethics. And I especially love it when I can radically disagree with a friend and yet our friendship not be damaged by disagreeing because we will take time to try and understand where each other are coming from.

I had respect for a friend who made this comment in response to my facebook rant:

I may not agree with your beliefs but I respect the fact that you stick to them. I admit, I find the idea of religion silly and I can only hope someday you leave your faith and come over to the dark side (we have cookies btw) but until then, by all means, post whatever you want.

I loved that, and had to giggle because I feel the exact same way – I respect my friends for sticking to their beliefs and feeling able to voice them, but at the same time would love them to know God the way I feel I do. But I would never in a million years want any of my friends to feel that I think they are dumb for rejecting the idea that there is a God or worse (as one friend once mistakenly believed) that I thought they deserved to go to some weird cartoon like hell with horned creatures, flames and pitchforks.

I feel I should also point out that I constantly question God, and spent a long time during my first years of faith being really angry at things that had happened in the world and to me as a child. A couple of years ago I really questioned if God even existed as I questioned the teaching of church leaders who I believe abused the authority they had been given. And I questioned whether the God of the bible had values that I felt I could follow. Did God and I agree on issues I felt passionately about? So I’m not sure how much I really ‘stick’ to my beliefs! Certainly I will stand up for them and voice them. But it would be wrong to say I have not had doubts, questions or that they’ve not changed as I’ve studied the bible and reflected on life experiences, books, art, culture and other media I’ve been open to learning from.

Oh, and PS I love this response to the Stephen Fry video very thoughtfully written by my good friend Rebecca. Rebecca is one of the most un-judgmental people I know and I don’t think she’d mind me telling you that we’ve had many conversations about life’s big (and small) questions. I was most disappointed to hear that, a bit like when our mutual friend shared about her atheist beliefs on her blog, some Christian bloggers stopped being friends with them. Their loss, I say. And I reckon Dudley Field Malone would agree.

Because we learn most when we disagree – and we continue learning when we learn can see past that to the human being, the experiences and thought processes that have led to their conclusion, and have them be willing to listen to how we came to ours too. Sometimes it means we will be shocked, sometimes it means our beliefs will evolve into something that looks a little different, sometimes it leads to us deciding we aren’t sure what we believe is right or wrong, and other times it plain just doesn’t matter but it has been an interesting conversation.